Documenting our family’s history and the connections between the generations is one of the most popular pastimes. Luckily for amateur and professional genealogists as well, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), popularly known as the Mormons, has developed a records depository that spans hundreds of years and all parts of the world. These records include census records, birth records, mortality indexes, court records, newspapers, obituaries, and dozens of other goldmines of data. In addition to the main library in Salt Lake City, Utah, LDS has made these records available free to the public, regardless of religious affiliation, through the more than 3,600 Family History Centers. In order to have a productive visit to the Family History Library, there are a few tasks you need to do before arriving at the center.
1) This may seem like the most obvious tip, but before planning your trip to the Family History Center (FHC) in your area, verify the days and times the library is open. Unlike municipal public libraries, the FHC is operated by volunteers and is not open 7 days a week or at all hours of the day. To avoid disappointment, call ahead.
2) Fill out a Family Group Record for each family you are researching. Most likely you will not have anywhere near the information needed to complete the Family Group Record but any information you do have, will be a great help when requesting information at the FHC. A copy of the form in pdf format is available for download on the LDS website.
3) Access the Family History Library Catalog online through the LDS website, FamilySearch.org. You can perform searches based on location, surname, author, keyword, title, etc. within the catalog. The benefit here is that although the catalog does not contain the actual records, it does contain the call numbers and/or fiche rolls for the actual record. Having this information when you arrive at the Family History Center will help you to locate the information that the FHC has on hand or order the records as an inter-library loan from the main library in Salt Lake City.
4) Bring a notebook or supply of Research Log forms to use during your research trip. These notes will help you verify your family history information and help you in future research at home or in other venues.
Visiting the Family History Center
The most frustrating and yet addictive part of researching your family history is that you never know what you will find or where you will find it. This is where your Family Group Records, the sources you have noted from your pre-search of the Family History Library Catalog, and the FHC volunteers invaluable. Family History Centers vary in their size and the number and types of records available so make sure that your first stop is with the volunteers. Ask for their assistance locating the CDs or fiche rolls that are most likely to contain the information you are looking for and if you are unfamiliar with fiche readers or computers, ask for little training, as well.
Make sure that one of the resources you view is the International Genealogical Index (IGI). This database is probably the greatest collection of genealogical information available in a single source. If you are unfamiliar with a sorted search, ask for help creating one to focus the IGI results specifically to the family you are interested in finding. The IGI is constantly being added to and oddly enough, taken away from, so ask you center volunteer is there is more than one version of the IGI available. You may find a relative or ancestor in an older version of the IGI that is not listed in the most recent one. Also, ask to see both the Main and the Addendum for each version of the IGI available. Take note of the CD/film number associated with the name you are searching for and add that to your list of CDs/films to view.
If the CD or film you need to view is not normally carried by your FHC, ask to see the list of materials that other people have recently requested. Most Family History Centers keep a list of borrowed materials that are currently in their branch. The loaned items are usually kept on site for several weeks, which provides you with an additional source of information. Check the list of borrowed materials against your list and if you get a match, ask the volunteer if you can view the resource. Who knows, you may be able to reduce your search by weeks, if not months.
This is by no means the limit of information available at the Family History Center. Other resources such as a list of Family History publications, an index of periodicals, out of use county maps, and other indexes from all over the world are part of the LDS extensive genealogical collection. However, the most important resource by far is the center’s volunteers. By establishing a relationship with the FHC staff, you may find that there are others in your area researching the same or similar information. One of the best aspects of genealogy is the generosity of the community. Information sharing is a great way to further your research, as well as a wonderful way to meet others who share your interest.